Military Expanding Dragnet for Missing North Koreans
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ South Korean soldiers shot and killed a North Korean agent today and expanded their military dragnet in a push to capture the last of the communist intruders who came ashore from a stranded submarine 12 days ago.
The slaying comes amid South Korean fears that some of the agents slipped through their smaller cordon of 60,000 soldiers. So far, 22 North Korean agents have died since the submarine ran aground, but South Korean officials believe more are still at large.
Four South Korean soldiers also have been killed in the hunt. One infiltrator was captured.
Hours after the submarine was discovered stranded on a reef 90 miles northeast of Seoul, the military set up three layers of security to capture the estimated 26 North Koreans who came ashore.
The military extended its search today to the sensitive border. The agent shot today, however, was caught within the original cordon _ about three miles from where the submarine was discovered on the South’s east coast Sept. 18.
The ministry identified the North Korean killed today as 2nd Lt. Li Chul Jin, a spy escort. He was armed with a pistol and dressed in brown civilian clothes, Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Kang Chang-shik said.
South Korean soldiers ordered him to surrender near a cornfield, but the North Korean opened fire and fled, Kang said. He was killed in the subsequent gunbattle.
Thousands of troops were trucked or airlifted northward today to set up a new cordon that will stretch to the sensitive border with North Korea. The border is about 60 miles from where the submarine was discovered.
U.S. military helicopters assisted in the search, though Jim Coles, spokesman for the U.S. military command in Seoul, said that less than a dozen U.S. helicopters have been involved since Friday.
The South Korean military asked for the assistance of U.S. helicopters with night-vision devices _ a technology not available to South Korean forces, he said.
In an announcement Sunday, the South Korean military said an analysis of equipment and belongings seized from the communist agents showed that they were on a mission to prepare for a larger infiltration operation.
Seized rolls of film showed they had taken pictures of a military air field in the region, which was used by North Koreans to land troops at the start of the Korean War in 1950, the announcement said.
Roads that were new or under construction were marked on a map, the military said.
The announcement was intended to rebut North Korea’s claim that the intrusion was accidental. The North has said the sub developed engine trouble while on a routine training mission and ran aground.
South Korea has rejected its archrival demand for the return of the sub and crew, including the dead bodies. In response, North Korea threatened unspecified retaliation.
One North Korean intruder, killed in a shootout on Saturday, was identified as Yu Rim, 35, the second-in-command of the submarine.
The sub’s commander, Chung Yong Gu, was among 11 North Koreans found dead in a mountain clearing, hours after the sub was discovered.
Military officials initially theorized that the 11 committed suicide to avoid capture. They later suggested that the fleeing agents might have shot them to improve their own chances of escape.
North Korean incursions are not new in South Korea, but the incursion involving the submarine was by far the most serious in years.
The Koreas are still technically at war. No peace treaty was signed after the three-year Korean conflict ended in an armistice in 1953.